For the first millennium BC, the identification of significant astronomical events allows us to establish a relative chronology which can be tied to actual calendar years. For example, there was a solar eclipse noted in an inscription from the tenth regnal year of the Assyrian king Ashur-Dan III which can be identified as having occurred 15 June 763 BC, and this can be corroborated by other astronomical events.

For the 3rd and 2nd millennia the dating is more difficult. A period which allows the establishment of a “relative” chronology is the period of roughly 500 years from the beginning of the Third Dynasty of Ur to the end of the First Dynasty of Babylon. This period can be reconstructed from king lists and year names. And synchronisms with certain other parts of the Near East for that period are possible. And at the other end of the timetable, there is a list of eponymous years (e.g. 5th year of the reign of X) going back to 920 BC for Assyrian kings, and that gives us the possibility of dating events as far back as 1450 BC. But beyond that is a type of “dark age” which extends from the collapse of the first Babylonian dynasty to 1450 BC. Since there is no correlation possible with Egypt prior to 1450, the dates which scholars use have traditionally depended on how long they estimate the “Dark Age” to have been. This has led to the development of three main chronologies (with many variations) which are usually known as the “Short Chronology,” the “Middle Chronology,” and the “Long Chronology.” Many scholars, perhaps the majority, have been using Middle Chronology.

When attempting to establish a chronology for Mesopotamia, a key document is the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, which preserves a record of astronomical observations of Venus over a period of 21 years (1646-1626 BC according to the Middle Chronology) as observed during the reign of the Babylonian king Ammisaduqa, the 4th ruler after Hammurabi. In this series, the rise of Venus with the new moon provides three fixed points (56 years apart), and depending on how many Venus cycles we allow for the time between the beginning of the reign of Hammurabi and the eighth year of Ammisaduqa, we can then date the beginning of Hammurabi's reign to 1848, 1792 or 1736. The commonly accepted date, however, is 1792 (the Middle Chronology).

The chronologies of Mesopotamia are dependent to a significant extent on the chronology of Ancient Egypt, therefore discrepancies in Egyptian chronology will affect our understanding of Mesopotamian chronology. When establishing a chronology for Egypt, scholars use many of the same modalities as are used to establish chronologies for the rest of the Ancient Near East, and those will be listed below. But in addition, Egyptologists use the list of Pharaohs produced by Manetho (an Egyptian priest in the 3rd century BC), as well as something known as the Sothic Cycle.

In Egypt the year began on the first day of the month of Thoth and the official calendar had 365 days, but no leap year, so they lost a day every four years. Therefore they also used a second calendar that began with the heliacal rising of the Sirius star, i.e. within a month or so of the beginning of the Nile floods. This calendar was astronomically correct, but the two calendars diverged slowly and only corresponded exactly every 1460 years. One of these correspondences was in the year 139 AD, therefore one can use the rare astronomical information in the Egyptian writings to date certain events, but only back to the year 1874 BC. 1 Unfortunately, there are problems even with the use of the Sothic cycles for dating, but a discussion of those problems and criticisms are beyond the scope of this work.

1. Gardiner 1961:64-66.

Sources used for creating chronologies for Mesopotamia

    1. The Sumerian King List - This covers a time “before the flood” up to the fall of the Dynasty of Isin. This is a bit problematic, however, because for the early rulers there are fantastically long reigns, but that may be due to an error in converting the sexagesimal system of the Sumerians to the decimal system of the later Akkadians.
    2. The Babylonian King List – two versions have been found, denoted Babylonian King List A and Babylonian King List B respectively. The later dynasties in the list deal with the Kassite and Sealand periods of Babylon. There is also a list dealing with the Hellenistic Period toward the end of the 1st millennium.
    3. The Assyrian King List – this records the kings of Assyria and how long each reigned back to a very early period, but the more reliable data begins around the 14th century BC.
    4. The synchronistic chronicle found in the library of Assurbanipal in Nineveh, which records interactions of Assyria and Babylonia from the Assyrian point of view.
    5. The Royal Chronicle of Lagash – this lists the kings of the important city of Lagash. These kings are not included in the Sumerian King List for some reason.
    6. Chronicle P – this is a Babylonian version of the Assyrian synchronistic chronicle.
    7. Royal inscriptions – these were created to commemorate public works like statues, temples and other monumental buildings, as well as to commemorate battles or other such important events.
    8. Year Lists – years were dated from significant events, such as the regnal years of rulers or the number of years since a particular event, such as the destruction of some important city.
    9. limmu Lists – these involved the use of the name of an important official for particular years in Assyria.
    10. Correspondence – perhaps the most famous collection of official correspondence is that of the Amarna letters found in Egypt. They are mostly in Akkadian, because that was the diplomatic language of the time. Because correspondents on both sides are named (the Egyptian recipients as well as the authors who may have been in Assyria, Babylonia or Canaan), these documents effectively correlate the chronology of the rest of the Near East with that of Egypt from the middle of the 2nd millennium.
    11. Classical sources – These sources include the writings of Berossus, who was a Babylonian astronomer during the Hellenistic period; the Canon of Ptolemy, which lists kings of Babylon beginning around 750 BC; and the Hebrew Bible (i.e. Old Testament).
    12. The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa – this was discussed above.
    13. Eclipses – These phenomena are helpful, but sometimes difficult to evaluate, even when using computer models.
    14. Radiocarbon dating – This method employs C14 analysis to date organic remains, but this method is known to be unreliable for dates earlier than 1000 BC. This was proven when Kathleen Kenyon took samples from the deepest layers of Jericho and sent them to different labs in Europe and America, and received results that varied from one lab to the next by as much as 800 years! In addition to the fact that there are variations from lab to lab, there is also the problem that C14 dating is based on the assumption that the amount of C14 in the atmosphere has remained constant through the ages, which is highly unlikely. Thus, if the amount of C14 in the atmosphere in 2000 BC was half what it is now, the results of C14 analysis would suggest that the sample in question was perhaps thousands of years older then it actually is. An article of some importance on the unreliability of C14 dating was written by Robert Braidwood,2 who cautions us concerning the following problems: a) Instrument error. Samples from Jarmo in 1948 gave dates around 4750. Then in the 1950's samples gave dates of 6650, then additional samples from the same location gave dates of 9270 BC.
    b) Radioactive breakdown is not regular, but random in nature, thus tolerance figures are given but the chances that the actual date falls within the tolerance range is only 2 out of 3.
    c) Contamination of samples - percolation of rainwater etc. might make the sample actually seem more recent. On the other hand, percolation of oil or natural gas might make the samples seem older.
    d) A newer value for the half life is 5730+/-40 years
    e) The C14 in the atmosphere may not always have been constant (!) Studies with Bristlecone pine in California suggest the C14 dates may actually be low (later than real years). Applying Suess's chart, the C14 date of 2253+/-53 would be equivalent to the dendrochronological age of about 2975 BC.
    15. Synchronisms – These are events which show that a particular ruler in Egypt was a contemporary of a particular ruler in another part of the Near East. For example, the Battle of Kadesh involved Ramses II in his 5th regnal year and the Hittite ruler Muwatalli II, and this is recorded in both Egyptian and in Hittite records. Another example is when Amenhotep III married a daughter of Shuttarna II of Mitanni.
    16. Dendochronology – This method uses tree rings to establish a chronology. It is still difficult to establish an absolute chronology, mainly because during the Roman period there are very few reliable samples. That is because there are not many samples at all, and some of those are imported from outside the Near East. There are, however, some good dates from samples in Anatolia, and these strongly favor the Middle Chronology. 3

2. Braidwood 1967.
3. Cf. Manning et al. 2001.

Archaeological Epochs

The following table is taken from Livingstone.4 Note that the dates prior to the end of the Middle Bronze Age (1550) still vary from author to author for reasons cited above.

    1. Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) – begins between 12,000 and 9,000 BC and ends around 6500 BC.
    2. Neolithic (New Stone Age) – 6500 to 4000 BC. The main site for this is Jericho. Pottery appears around 5000 BC.
    3. Chalcolithic (Copper-Stone Age) – from ca. 4000 to ca. 3000 BC. Copper working appears. Significant sites include Jericho and Ghassul in Palestine, Tell Halaf, Tell el-Ubaid and Tepe Gaura in Mesopotamia, and El-Badari, Nagada and el-Amarna in Egypt.
    4. Early Bronze Age – this is further divided into four units.
  • a. EB I (Early Bronze I) – 3050 BC to 2900 BC. Djemdet Nasr in Mesopotamia.
  • b. EB II – 2900-2650 BC. Early Dynastic Period in Mesopotamia. First and Second Dynasties in Egypt.
  • c. EB III – 2650-2400 BC. Lagash and Ur in Mesopotamia. Dynasties III-V in Egypt.
  • d. EB IV – 2400-2200 BC. Sudden collapse in Egypt. In Mesopotamia the Dynasty of Akkad is founded by Sargon I.
  • 5. Middle Bronze Age – 2200-1550 BC. Dynasty XII in Egypt, Hyksos. Hammurabi founds the First Babylonian Dynasty.
    6. Late Bronze Age – 1550-1200 BC. From the expulsion of the Hyksos until the advent of the Philistines.
    7. Iron Age – From 1200 BC until the arrival of the Greeks in 333 BC.

Of interest for us in this book is the period from the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age through the much of the Iron Age. With all these various methods of determining dates for events in the Ancient Near East there are questions and criticisms. So the reader should not be surprised or disconcerted when reading other works and finding discrepancies from time to time. Fortunately, the closer we get to the time of Christ, the more agreement there is concerning the dates, but surprises can still occur. For example, in the Book of Mormon, we say that Lehi left Jerusalem 600 years before the birth of Christ. But was that 600 years precisely, or only approximately? And a more subtle question is whether the 600 years mentioned in the Book of Mormon were according to the Jewish lunar calendar, or according to one of the Egyptian calendars, which were closer to what we know as the Julian calendar?


4. Livingstone 1974:14-17.


The earliest datable event in Mesopotamia is the regency of Mebaragesi, the eighth king of Kish around 2700 BC. Since most of the names of the kings of Kish were Semitic, this would seem to indicate that there was already a layer of Semitic people present in Mesopotamia at this time. That is significant, because there is still a debate about when the Semites arrived in Mesopotamia (presumably having wandered there from Syria) and whether their arrival preceded or followed that of the Sumerians, who formed the first real civilization in Mesopotamia, and who were responsible for the invention of writing (even before the Egyptians).

This same Mebaragesi was supposedly a contemporary of Gilgamesh, a semi-historical, semi-mythical figure who was the subject of the Sumerian epic known as “the Epic of Gilgamesh,” and who was supposedly a king of the southern Mesopotamian city of Uruk. 5 In any case, at that time, there were individual city-states, and the region was not unified until one of them became economically and politically powerful enough to act as the power center for the area. That happened to some extent when Mesanepada founded the First Dynasty of Ur (the city where Abraham lived at a later date). At that time, Ur had a harbor on the Persian Gulf, which was not the case after centuries of silt flowing down-river filled in the shallow areas and pushed the beach-line further south. But in the beginning, this harbor contributed to the prosperity of Ur, and Mesanepada showed his hegemony over the region by calling himself not just king of Ur, but more importantly, “King of Kish.” But the ambitions of Mesanepada to be a regional ruler rather than just a ruler of a city-state were perhaps more wishful than real. In point of fact, the various cities were still fairly autonomous, partly because the dependence of each city on its own irrigation system for food production, and the fact that it was still separated from other cities by desert. The water issue also meant that no city could enjoy unhampered growth, and these factors contributed to the perpetuation of a significant degree of independence for each city.

The development of true writing occurred in southern Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, and the earliest examples were unearthed during excavations of the ancient city of Uruk, and date to the period designated by archeologists as Uruk IVa. The writing there was done on clay tablets, because clay was plentiful and could be hardened through baking to create records which would last almost indefinitely. The earliest writings were mainly of two types: first, stamp seals (and later cylinder seals) to show possession of authority of a ruler or other important personage; and secondly, economic transactions at temples, such as the donation of sacrificial animals etc. Temples were also the centers of literacy, because temple personnel had to make records of transactions, and therefore scribal schools naturally sprang up in temple settings.

5. An intriguing fact about the city of Uruk – at least for Latter-day Saints – is that the sacred precincts within that city were known as Kullab, which sounds very much like Kolob, and raises the question of whether the concept of Kolob might have been known to those early temple builders.


The process of moving from a hunter-gatherer society to a society in which food is intentionally grown (agricultural society) is known as the Neolithic Revolution, and this occurred in Egypt during the first half of the 5th millennium BC. In order for that to happen, the swampy areas on the banks of the Nile had to be drained and the land had to be made flat and even so the water that flooded it annually would not remain on it in unwanted puddles and ponds. Instead, crops could then be planted on that land. But then there was the problem that those crops needed to be watered during the dry periods, and that required the development of irrigation techniques. After the Egyptians had mastered those two processes, Egypt along the Nile became a fruitful oasis.

The earliest settlements in Egypt appear to have been along the banks of the Fayum in the western part of Middle Egypt, and they date to around 4400 BC. A second culture was that of Merimde-Beni-Salame in the western Delta. Animals were raised and crops were planted. In addition, grain was buried with the corpses, which suggests that these early Nile dwellers had a concept of the after-life. Strictly speaking, the term “pre-dynastic” is used for the period before the First Dynasty, which is dated to around 3100 BC, when King Narmer conquered the north and unified the land. Prior to that, the south had been governed from Ombos and the main god was Seth, while the north was ruled from Behdet (Edfu), and its main god was Horus.

The first king of the First Dynasty was Menes according to Manetho, but this name does not appear in the contemporary sources. He may be the same as King Scorpion, the father of Narmer, but most assume that he was Narmer himself. This First Dynasty and the five that followed it constitute what is known as the Old Kingdom, and this was a period of time lasting from approximately 2700 BC to about 2300 BC. It was during the Third Dynasty that the so-called step pyramid of Djoser was built on the edge of the desert at Saqqara. But it was during the Fourth Dynasty that king Khufu (also known by the Hellenized name of Cheops) built the great pyramid at Giza. The second largest pyramid at Giza was built by Khafra, who was the fourth king of the Fourth Dynasty, and he was also a son of Khufu. Some scholars even suggest that Khafra may have built the Sphinx as well, but that is still disputed. The two main accomplishments of the Fourth Dynasty are said to have been first, the development and perfection of the royal administration, and secondly, progress in the arts.

The Fifth Dynasty lasted from ca. 2480 to 2350, and it was during this dynasty that the God Re (or Ra) became pre-eminent, and from that time forward the title “Son of Re” appeared regularly in the royal titulary. The texts indicate that during this dynasty a total of six temples were built to Re, although only two have been uncovered – that of Userkaf and that of Nyuserre. These temples included a large courtyard in which there was an obelisk, which is thought to have represented the primordial hill rising out of the chaos that existed at the time of creation; and in front of that was an altar for sacrifices. Outside the courtyard wall was a large ship, that represented the ship that the sun used to travel through the sky each day.

In terms of Old Testament studies, it is worth pointing out that during the Fifth Dynasty there was already contact with the Levant, for Sahure, the second king of the Fifth Dynasty, not only undertook campaigns eastward toward Libya, but also had dealings with people north of Egypt along the Syro-Palestinian coast, which means that the Egyptians were active in the area of Canaan centuries before the time of Abraham. An interesting detail of the political apparatus is the fact that the most powerful official in any Egyptian province was the canal supervisor, whose authority was second only to that of the king. He was responsible for paying wages, and was also the presiding authority in legal matters. Flax and grain were stored in large storehouses and then used to pay wages. Money per se was not known in Egypt until very late.

As in early Mesopotamia, wheat was the mainstay of the Egyptian diet, and also similar to Mesopotamia, beer was the favored drink. Beginning in the Fifth Dynasty, the kings tended to release temples, and even many favored private individuals, from their tax obligations; and they also began to bequeath royal domains to private individuals, especially for the purpose of supporting the practices of the death cults or those of sacrifices to the gods. These things gradually drained the royal coffers and were significant factors in leading to the downfall of the Old Kingdom.

The important gods in the Old Kingdom included Atum-Re in Heliopolis, Ptah in Memphis, Thoth in Hermopolis, and Min in Coptos, as well as Horus and Hathor. But two of the oldest gods were Osiris, the original god of the delta, and his spouse, Isis. According to the Osiris legend, he was killed by his brother, but Isis gathered all his body parts, and with the help of the gods, re-assembled him, thus creating the Egyptian version of a resurrected deity. However, according to the legend, the reconstituted Osiris still did not have his full powers, so he was not able to regain his earthly throne, but had to remain in the underworld and rule from there. This was perhaps the main difference between the Osiris legend in Egypt, and the legend of Tammuz in Mesopotamia, or Adonis in later Greek culture. In any case, the Egyptian king then became the representative on earth for Osiris. At the end of the Fifth Dynasty, the Old Kingdom was at its zenith, and there were no signs that it would collapse . . . yet. But it would only take the reigns of five kings to bring Egypt from a state of order and stability into a state of complete anarchy. The last king of the Fifth Dynasty, Unas, had no male heir, but his daughter, Iput, was the wife of Teti, who used that connection to take power and thereby found the Sixth Dynasty. There were seven different kings in the Sixth Dynasty, but one of them is worth mentioning, because he had the longest known reign in history. That was Pepi II, who is credited with having reigned 94 years.

Otherwise, however, things were not going well for the monarchs of that dynasty. While the tendency during the Fifth Dynasty had been toward a centralization of power in the hands of the king, the trend during the Sixth Dynasty was quite the opposite. Decentralization was the order of the day during that dynasty. To be fair, the seeds for that had been sown during the preceding period by the unfortunate fiscal behavior detailed above. And added to that was the fact that the provincial officials had managed to make their posts essentially hereditary. The king was still involved in the process of appointing replacements only to the extent that he was expected to formally transfer the positions to the sons of those officials after they died. There was one notable accomplishment during the Sixth Dynasty however - the Egyptians managed to penetrate far across their borders into sub-Saharan Africa. It is known, for example, that Pepi II was particularly delighted when one of his officers brought him back a Pygmy. But after Pepi II, the government in Memphis collapsed as the result of a social revolution.


As was discussed above, the earliest significant civilization in Mesopotamia was that of the Sumerians, who are credited with inventing the art of writing, but largely remained in city-states; although one of them – Ur (Abraham's home town) – managed to gain influence over very extensive areas of Mesopotamia through economic means. This was especially true during what is known as the Ur III period (roughly from 2100 to 2000 BC). This was also the period during which I believe that Abraham lived, and that will be discussed further below.

The Sumerians may have been responsible for the early development of the writing and other hallmarks of true civilization, but they were not alone in Mesopotamia. In fact, they were perhaps not even the original inhabitants. In short, we don't really know for sure where they came from, and their language does not give us any real clues, because it does not seem to be related to any other known language. In any case, the population in Mesopotamia was quite mixed at a very early stage, and the most important rival group during the early period was a group of Semitic people who spoke a language latter known as Akkadian.

One of these people was a fellow named Sargon, whose early life was a little like that of Moses. That is because – according the legend – his mother put him in a basket and set him adrift on the Euphrates River. An orchard worker found him and adopted him, or so the story goes. In actuality, he probably belonged to the nomads who lived on the eastern edge of the desert near the mountains. In any case, he eventually established the empire of Akkad, which lasted from 2340 to 2198 (middle chronology). He had begun his career in the city of Kish where he was a cup-bearer to Urzababa, the second king of the Third Dynasty of Kish. Sargon eventually rebelled against his king and was able to conquer Kish. After that he built Akkad, near Sippar on the Euphrates, but we do not know exactly where. But from that time on, northern Mesopotamia was known as Akkad, while southern Mesopotamia was known as Sumer (after the Sumerians).

Eventually, Sargon managed to conquer Mari,6 Elam,7 and probably also Ebla.8 His empire then extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. One of the kings of Akkad, Naramsin (2260-2223 BC), was so successful that he assumed the title of “King of the Four Ends of the Earth.” However, during the reign of the last king of Akkad, Šarkališarri, the political situation had become so tenuous, that Šarkališarri used the much more modest title of “King of Akkad.”

After the collapse of the Dynasty of Akkad, the next major player in Mesopotamia was the city of Lagash, and the best known ruler of Lagash was Gudea, who ruled from 2144 to 2124 BC. Like Sargon before him (who had been set adrift on the Euphrates river, much as Moses had been set adrift on the Nile), Gudea also had something in common with Moses, and is therefore a significant figure for students of the Old Testament. For we are told (in Exodus 25:40) that when Moses was told to construct a tabernacle, he was first shown a heavenly pattern. Similarly, Gudea reports that he was instructed to build a temple to his god, Ningirsu (the city-god of Lagash), and was shown the pattern. His account of the building of that edifice is recounted in what are known as the cylinders of Gudea.9 But it appears that Gudea also built temples in the city of Ur, as well as in Nippur, Adab, Uruk (biblical Erech) and Babtibira. But Gudea apparently had no ambition to build an empire after the order of that accomplished by Sargon or the other rulers of Akkad. Instead, Gudea returned the region to a system of city-states. Instead of increasing his possessions through war, Gudea preferred to realize that goal through trade. For that reason, the state under Gudea was no less grand than it had been under Sargon, but was much less threatened. And during this period there was a blossoming of art and science.

6. Mari was a city, and later an empire, located on the Euphrates near the border between the modern states of Syria and Iraq.
7. Elam was a kingdom located on the banks of the Persian Gulf in what is now Iran.
8. Ebla was a city located about 35 miles southwest of modern-day Aleppo in Syria. It also controlled an empire of considerable importance during the third millennium BC and also during the first half of the second millennium. Some 20,000 clay tablets have been recovered from Ebla (written in either Sumerian or Eblaite, the native Semitic language), and excavation of the city's palaces revealed artifacts from Sumer, Cyprus, Egypt and even Afghanistan, thus indicating that it was a major center for trade.
9. For a translation of that account see Wilson 1996.


The city that is associated with Abraham in the Genesis 11:31 and in the Book of Abraham is Ur. The location of that city has been the topic of some heated scholarly debates over many centuries, but particularly during the 20th century. In 1922 a joint expedition of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania was undertaken at Tell el-Mukayyar in southern Iraq. That this is the site of the famous Sumerian city of Ur is not questioned. In fact, there still stands amidst its ruins an ancient ziggurat, 10 which was part of a temple complex dedicated to the Moon god, Nanna. But the question for Bible scholars was whether or not this was also the biblical “Ur of the Chaldees.” In 1927 the archeologist in charge of the excavations, Sir Leonard Woolley, declared it to be the Ur of the Genesis account, and this view is still accepted by most Bible scholars and Assyriologists. Prior to that excavation, there had been conflicting views concerning whether Ur of the Chaldees was to be sought in northern Mesopotamia or southern Mesopotamia.

One of the modern scholars who continued to speak for a northern site for Ur 11 was Cyrus Gordon, who argued (Gordon: 1958) from both biblical and extra-biblical evidence that Ur of the Chaldees must be located in the north. This view was followed by the LDS scholar, Hugh Nibley (who added no further evidence beyond what had been adduced by Gordon), and then further perpetuated (possibly because of Nibley's view) by certain other LDS scholars. However, in 1960, H. W. F. Saggs published his response to Gordon's assertion and rather convincingly destroyed it. Because the identification of the site of Ur of the Chaldees is rather important – especially for Latter-day Saints, in view of the fact that we have so much additional material in the Book of Abraham that is affected by our understanding of the geography – I will discuss Saggs' article at some length.

Saggs points out that Gordon uses three main lines of argument,12 1) there is a strong tradition in the OT that Ur of the Chaldees was in northern Mesopotamia, 2) the known facts concerning the patriarchs are interpreted as easily on the assumption that they were city merchants, as on the more common view that they were nomadic tribesmen, 3) the term "Chaldees" can be adequately explained as referring specifically to northern Mesopotamia.

Saggs says the argument that the OT favors a northern birthplace is not new and is based on Gen. 24:1-10 where Abraham sends his servant to his moledet to find a wife for Isaac. He says that in actual OT usage, the word means "kindred, birth, offspring". He states that there is no place where it must mean "place of birth" and several where it cannot (eg. Lev. 18:911 and Ezek 16:4). He thus interprets the instructions as "to the land where my kindred are currently to be found." 13

He goes on to state that Gordon’s assertion that Haran was not on the route from Ur to Canaan assumes that Terah had Canaan in mind as a final destination when he started out, but that was not the case.

Furthermore Gordon’s use of Josh 24:2 "Your fathers dwelt of old time beyond the River (Euphrates), even Terah..." proves nothing. No one claims he lived inside urban Ur. There were settlements on both sides of the river, so it could easily refer to Ur in a more general geographic sense. Even if it could be proved that it refers to Syria, an earlier residence in Ur is not excluded because the phrase for "of old time" in Jer. 2:20 means "in old time" and not "from old time."

He continues by pointing out that the tamkaru merchants probably traded in copper, which was very important to Ugarit. Metals came chiefly from Asia minor and metals were probably the chief property in which the merchants traded. The list of property items of Abraham is different (animals, slaves, gold and silver) and Abraham had more men at his disposal than any merchants mentioned in the extant texts, suggesting a role as a sheik. Concerning the geographical designation of "Chaldees," the Chaldeans were found in lower Babylonia from the end of the second millennium. "Their territory at the beginning of this period extended roughly north and east from the city of Ur, in the region known as the Sealands, but rapidly extended up the Euphrates until it reached almost to Borsippa." 14 He admits that the mention of the Chaldees involves an anachronism, but anachronisms are not unusual in the OT.

He discusses Gordon’s claim that Isa. 23:13 cannot refer to Babylonia, but rather to Urarta (based on ḫaldu), but Saggs shows that a reference to Babylonian Chaldees in that locus is quite reasonable. And as for the ancestor Kesed, he says that the mention of Kesed immediately after Aram in Gen. 22:22 only proves that the Chaldeans were thought to be related to the Arameans, as indeed they were. "In fact, there is no evidence that eponymous ancestors are concerned in this passage. Professor Gordon has apparently confused the Aram of Gen. xxii.21, Abraham's great-nephew, with the eponymous ancestor Aram of Gen. x.23, the brother of Abraham's ancestor eight generations back in the paternal line. That the Aram of Gen. xxii.21 was not regarded by the biblical writers as the eponymous ancestor of the Aramaeans is shown by the fact that Bethuel, the uncle of the junior Aram, is already referred to as 'the Aramaean', as is Bethuel's son Laban." 15

In any case, the most important period for Ur was the Ur III period, which extended roughly from 2100 BC to 2003 BC. As mentioned previously, I believe that this was when Abraham lived there. The first king of this dynasty was Urnammu (2111-2094), and it was during his reign that the ziggurat of Ur received its final form, as did the ziggurat of Uruk. Other cultic places were also restored by Urnammu. Urnammu may have been the first to use the title “King of Sumer and Akkad,” although Greengus is of the opinion that Utuhengal may have used that title even earlier. 16 In any case, the use of that title signified that the rule extended over two populations: the Sumerians in the south and the Akkadians in the north.

Urnammu's son, Shulgi, resumed the practice that had first appeared during the Dynasty of Akkad, which was the deification of himself. It seems that the king did not intend to actually raise himself to the level of the traditional gods, but rather to make himself a protective deity of the land. And in this connection, it was generally accepted that everyone needed a protective deity, which represented his connection to the higher realm of the gods. 17 Associated with the concept of the protective deity was the concept that the king represented Dumuzi, the lover of the goddess Inanna, and therefore he had to participate in the annual “Holy Marriage,” This practice is clearly described as early as Iddindagan of Isin (1974-1954), but probably was also present during the Ur III period.

The end of the Ur III dynasty is associated with an incident that may have a significant relationship to the Book of Abraham. The following is known from the correspondence between the king of Ur, Ibbisin, and his army commander, Išbierra. The situation for Ur had become dire, because the Martu people (the Sumerian term for the Amorites from the west) had broken through the barriers that had been built to keep them out, and were conquering one fortress in Mesopotamia after the other and threatening Ur. Išbierra managed to have Ibbisin bestow upon him full power and authority to deal with the threat of the Martu people. As part of this new power, Išbierra also demanded, and received, authority over the city of Isin. This was crucial, because a famine had broken out in Mesopotamia – whether because of failed harvests or because of the invasion of the Amorites is not known – and it was particularly acute in Ur. Išbierra had therefore carefully stored 72,000 gur 18 of grain in Isin, supposedly to protect it from the invading Amorites. So when Ibbisin asked him to send grain to Ur, Išbierra used that opportunity to stall by telling Ibbisin he did not have enough barges to send grain. He told Ibbisin to send him barges so he could help, but no grain ever arrived in Ur, and Išbierra simply made himself an independent ruler in Isin (and ruled 2017 to 1985 BC), and left Ur to its fate, which was a collapse that was finally brought about, not by the Martu people, but by the Elamites.

In my opinion, this famine that helped to bring about the fall of Ur, may have been the famine mentioned in the Book of Abraham 1:29ff. that was present in Ur when Abraham and his family left Ur and journeyed to Haran. Moreover, there is another fact in the Book of Abraham that also suggests that the Ur in southern Mesopotamia was Abraham's Ur, and that is the fact that the chief god in Woolley's Ur was the moon god, Nanna. And interestingly, we are told that when Abraham's family left Ur, they first went to Haran, and when Abraham moved on, his father, Terah, stayed in Haran and turned again to his idolatry (Abr. 2:5). This is important to point out, because Jewish tradition reports that Terah made idols, and having come from Ur, he may have brought with him the worship of Nanna, and we know from later sources, that the moon-god also became the main god of Haran.

10. A ziggurat looks rather like a stepped pyramid, with several sections on top of each other, each one somewhat smaller than the one below. The main difference, however, is that unlike the pyramid, there is no burial function to the ziggurat. Instead, it has a small chapel-like edifice on top of it, where the god is supposed to descend and tarry from time to time. In that regard, it is like the so-called pyramids in Meso-America, which have a similar structure on top. Thus the “pyramids” in Meso-America are really akin to ziggurats, not to pyramids.

11. The northern site which most proponents of that theory name is Sanliurfa in Turkey
12. This discussion of Saggs' arguments is based on his article (Saggs 1960).
13. Saggs 1960:201.
14. Saggs 1960:205.
15. Saggs 1960:208
16. Samuel Greengus, in a personal communication
17. Recall the episode of Rachel's theft of Laban's protective deities in Gen. 31.
18. 1 gur = 5 bushels.


The dark period from approximately 2200 to 2040 BC included the 7th to the 10th dynasties and part of the 11th dynasty. During the 7th and 8th dynasties the capital was still Memphis, but after that the rulers in Heracleopolis 19 were able to seize power and moved the capital there. The capital was then moved to Thebes by the rulers of the 11th dynasty. It should be noted, however, that there was a period (from 2133 on) when the 10th dynasty was still ruling in Heracleopolis in the north, while the 11th Dynasty was already ruling from Thebes in the south. The 10th Dynasty finally disappeared in 2045 BC. It was Mentuhotep II who put an end to the division in Egypt. He ascended the throne in Thebes around 2061 BC and during his 14th regnal year launched an attack on Heracleopolis, and, after capturing it, proceeded to consolidate his power over all of Egypt. He finished that process in his 39th regnal year and is therefore considered the founder of the Middle Kingdom.

As evident from the dates given above, the final portion of the First Intermediate Period corresponds to the first part of the Ur III period, while the end of the First Intermediate Period in Egypt and the founding of the Middle Kingdom there occurred roughly half way through the Ur III Period. Therefore these were events that Abraham might have experienced indirectly, or at least known about. Furthermore, the establishment of the 11th dynasty during the time of Abraham is significant, because in Facsimile No. 1 of the Book of Abraham we see a crocodile at the bottom of the picture, which is labeled “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.” That crocodile was the Egyptian god Sobek, and Sobek was worshiped during the 11th and 12th dynasties in Egypt, which further suggests that Abraham lived during the time of one or the other of those dynasties.

If my assumptions concerning Abraham are correct, and if he left Ur around the year 2017 BC (when Išbierra became ruler of Isin during the famine) and was about 60 years old at the time,20 he would have been born around 2077 BC, and would therefore have been about 30 years old when Mentuhotep II conquered Heracleopolis and the period of the Middle Kingdom began. Therefore, when the Ur III period ended, the 11th dynasty in Egypt was already in place and worshiping Sobek.

There was, however, another important god in Thebes, and that was Amun. He rose to prominence during the 11th dynasty as the patron deity of Thebes, and after the rebellion of Thebes against the Hyksos he was eventually conflated with the Sun god, Ra, as Amun-Ra (or Amun-Re). Osiris, on the other hand, who had been so important in the Old Kingdom, might have sunk to secondary importance if not for a parallel development in Egyptian morality. In the Osiris religion there was the concept of justice and mercy, and in spite of all the magic that permeated and obscured its practice, there was still the idea that all of our deeds on earth are judged in the afterlife. In order to be admitted to the ship of the sun-god Ra, the king had to be pure, meaning he had to have had the purification rites. He also had to be physically intact. The man who would ferry the king to the other side of eternity would ask the king questions concerning his purity (ritual purity that is), his righteousness and his integrity. Theoretically the king could only make the journey if he answered the questions correctly – a concept that might well resonate with Latter-day Saints. Eventually this process for the dead was applied to everyone, not just kings. Thus the concept of a final, universal judgment of the dead arose.

Osiris assisted the local gods in that process. The heart of the dead person was supposedly placed on one side of a balance, and a feather – the symbol of Maat, the goddess of justice and truth - on the other side. Thoth, the god of writing, as well as Horus and Anubis assure that the balance is correct. If it remains even, the deceased is declared righteous. If not, he is turned over to a monster with the head of a crocodile and the body of a hippopotamus.

In order to be righteous, the Egyptian needed to be first and foremost compassionate. Thus there were assurances written by them such as, “I gave bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and I protected the widows and orphans.” Such writings were attested even during the First Intermediate Period, and then continued long afterward.

During the First Intermediate Period, relations with foreign nations had been disrupted, but as soon as the kingdoms were unified during the period of the Middle Kingdom, Mentuhotep II resumed relations with other nations. Thus it is quite conceivable that during this time Egypt had contact with Mesopotamia in general, and Ur in particular, as indicated in the Book of Abraham. At the beginning of the reign of Mentuhotep II Shulgi reigned in Ur, and at the end of his reign, the king in Ur was Ibbisin. All of this thus fits very well with what we have noted from the Book of Abraham.

The 12th dynasty was founded when Amenemhet I (also written Amenemhat) took the throne in 1991 BC. He apparently tried to legitimize his rule by having a phony text written, in which there was a prophecy by a supposed priest named Neferty claiming that disaster would befall Egypt, and that a king from the south by the name of Ameny would restore order at a time when there would be an incursion of “Asians” (meaning from the Levant and places east and/or north of that). This suggests that such a movement of people into Egypt actually did occur roughly at the very time when Abraham would have been leaving Canaan to move into Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, as mentioned in Gen. 12:10. Perhaps partly in reaction to that incursion of Asians, Amenemhet I moved the capital from Thebes to Memphis (actually it was to Ankh-Tawi near Memphis). He also built a wall in the east to keep out the Semitic peoples who had filtered into the Delta at the beginning of his reign. He also built a wall in the west against the Libyans, who had been the enemies of Egypt for some time, especially during the Old Kingdom.

In his 20th regnal year, Amenemhet had made his son, Sesostris (also called Senusret I), co-regent. When Amenemhet I was murdered, Sesostris had to return from a military campaign in Lybia to restore order, and he then ruled another 30 years (1971-1928 BC). Sesostris I undertook numerous building projects, including the restoration of the temple in Heliopolis. That was probably for both religious and political reasons, because Heliopolis was the main city for the sun-god Ra, one of the oldest gods in Egypt. Therefore, this allowed Sesostris to connect himself to the important god of the Old Kingdom, and thereby further legitimize his kingship.

After a succession of other rulers, the final ruler of the 12th dynasty was a woman: Sobekneferu (1789-1786 BC), who was probably a sister or half sister of Amenemhet IV, who apparently had no male heirs. Interestingly, her name means “the beauty of Sobek.” Sobek, as mentioned previously, was the name of the god represented by the crocodile depicted in Facsimile No. 1 in the Book of Abraham.

19. Also spelled Herakleopolis.
20. Abraham 2:14 states that he was 62 when he left Haran, so if we estimate that he remained 2 years in Haran after leaving Ur, then that would mean that he was 60 when he left Ur.


The Old Babylonian Period extended from the end of the Ur III Dynasty (2003) up to 1594 BC. That was the year that the Hittite king, Murshili I led a military campaign into Babylon, put an end to the First Dynasty, and after that the land was ruled by Kassites.

Before, and even in the beginning of the Old Babylonian Period, Babylon was a small town of no special significance. More importantly for Latter-day Saints, we do not know of any ziggurat (i.e. “tower”) in the town at that time. This is significant, because of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In the Genesis account (Gen. 11:1-9) we are told that people wandered in “from the east” into the land of Shinar. That actually fits well with what we know (or at least suspect) about the Sumerians. It is thought that they may have wandered into Mesopotamia from the east (or from the southeast, if, as some think, they came from the littoral region of eastern Arabia), and the biblical term “Shinar” refers to Sumer, so this fixes the biblical site of the city those immigrants built as Sumer, meaning southern Mesopotamia. However, in Gen. 11:9 we are told that they named the place “Babel” because that is where the Lord confused their language. That verse is a bit suspicious, meaning that one might suspect that the name “Babel” was added later by some redactor. The reason for that is that “Babel” (the Hebrew name for Babylon) has the same triliteral root as the Hebrew word for “to confuse.” That makes it a wonderful play on words, and provides a false etymology to explain the name of the city. Of course, another explanation of the name (also a bit mythical) is that the name comes from two Semitic words: bab meaning “gate,” and ilum meaning “god.” Thus Babel would mean something like “the gate of the gods.” Neither of these explanations is taken seriously by cuneiformists, but the use of the first of these explanations in Gen. 11:9 truly casts doubt on the authenticity of that verse.

Moreover, it is significant that in the account of the confusion of tongues given in the Book of Mormon in Ether 1, the name of the city involved is never mentioned. 21 I believe that this actually adds credibility to the Book of Mormon account, because if Babylon did not have a tower at that time, any mention of such a tower in Babylon in the book of Ether would also bring suspicion upon the Book of Mormon. The most likely site of the tower described in Ether is the city of Ur, which had a magnificent ziggurat at a very early date, but it is also possible that some other city with a ziggurat could have been the site of that event. In any case, I believe that Gen. 11:9 is an anachronism added by a later redactor, who lived at a later time when Babylon was a major force in the region.

About the time of the beginning of the 18th century BC there began a tendency toward the development of international relations that reached its apogee during the empire of Hammurabi (1792-1759 BC). However, after Hammurabi, the region returned to a process of factionalization.

During the Old Babylonian period there were two significant changes: one was the transition from the Sumerian temple-city to a state form in which private ownership was the rule and the temple was limited to cultic functions. The second change was the fact that the idea of deification of the king was foreign to the Amorite culture and disappeared from the region by about 1800 BC.

The Amorites (of which Hammurabi himself was one) appear to have spoken a language similar to Canaanite, and that is true also of the nomads who had been infiltrating the area already in the Ur III period. Therefore it is conceivable that Abraham indeed spoke a form of Hebrew if he was part of that Amorite migration, 22 although we would assume that his Hebrew was not identical with that spoken by Moses several centuries later, since languages tend to mutate over time. By the middle of the second millennium the Amorite social layer had completely assimilated and adopted the Semitic language of their hosts. And during the second half of the second millennium there was a new wave of Semitic immigrants, the Arameans, who took control of the entire Fertile Crescent.

But getting back to the time of Hammurabi, we should note that there was also an Amorite king building an empire in northern Mesopotamia, that is to say, in Assyria. His name was Shamshi-Adad I, who ruled Assyria 1815-1782. 23 There is even a document that mentions the names of Hammurabi and Shamshi-Adad in a contract. Shamshi-Adad I was the first king in the north to assume the Akkadian title of šar kiššatim, “King of Everything.” One inscription claims that he penetrated as far west as the Mediterranean and that he set up stelae there. In the east his empire reached as far as the Iranian plateau, and in the south his empire bordered the states of Babylon and Ešnunna. Eventually, however, Assyria came under the hegemony of the First Babylonian Dynasty. This seems to have happened for the first time in 1764 BC when Hammurabi defeated a coalition consisting of “Subartu” (i.e. Assyria), the Gutians, Ešnunna and Malgium. Eventually, Hammurabi controlled an area almost as large as had been controlled by the kings of Ur III.

As mentioned above, the temple-state unity dissolved during the Old Babylonian Period and the state even gained control of temple possessions. The temple no longer managed vast estates, because private ownership had brought about a change in ownership. But the temples began to play a banking role.

Almost immediately after Hammurabi's reign the kingdom was weakened increasingly by the influx of the Kassites from the east. Fortunately for the locals, the Kassites were very willing to assimilate, even adopting the local language (Akkadian) as soon as they arrived. For that reason, when they finally took power, no one really viewed them as foreigners any longer, as had been the case with the Gutians during an earlier period.

21. It is true that when Elder Bruce McConkie wrote the chapter headings, in the heading to Ether 1 he called it “Babel.” I discussed that with one of his sons (Joseph Fielding McConkie) and asked him whether his father had received special revelation on that. He told me that no, his father had probably just assumed that the city was Babel because of the Bible version, but that he would have been open to other possibilities if such evidence had been produced and presented to him when he was writing those headings.
22. That is not to say that Abraham himself was an Amorite, for the possibility exists that he might have simply attached himself to that group for economic or cultural reasons.
23. Alternate dates are 1808-1776


The darkest period in Egyptian history is that which extends from the end of the 12th dynasty (meaning the death of history's first certain female Pharaoh, Sobeknefru sometime between 1800 and 1770 BC) to the beginning of the 18th dynasty (when Ahmose I took the throne around 1570 BC). During this period, there were more than 200 kings, many ruling only for a matter of months. Top

The Second Intermediate Period may be divided into three parts:

    1. Egypt before the Hyksos (13th and 14th dynasties, ca. 1790-1603 BC)
    2. The Hyksos 24 (15th and 16th dynasties, 1674-1567)
    3. The kingdom of Thebes and the expulsion of the Hyksos (17th dynasty, + 1650-1567 BC)

Even before the Hyksos invasion, there were people with Semitic names in the service of functionaries in Upper Egypt, for a number of Semitic names are preserved in the Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446, which seems to date back to the 13th dynasty. One may therefore wonder whether such people may have been descendants of Jacob.

The Hyksos were in the Delta by 1720, but needed another 40 years to reach Memphis. That is when the 15th dynasty (the Hyksos dynasty) began, and one of the rulers of that dynasty had the name Jacob-Her, which would equal the standard Semitic name of Jacob-El. After the Hyksos had ruled for some time, they were finally driven out by Ahmose I, who founded the 18th dynasty. In the 18th dynasty the capital was moved to Thebes.

24. The Hyksos ruled from Avaris and did not have control of all of Egypt, hence some overlap in the dates of the dynasties during this period.


The Middle Assyrian Empire was, of course, preceded by an earlier Assyrian Empire, but unfortunately, less is known about Assyria in the first half of the second millennium BC than is known about Babylonia. We can say, however, that sometime around 2050 BC, the first major temple in the city of Aššur (or “Ashur”) was built, and a king named Ushpia was credited with that. But the Old Assyrian Empire itself was founded by Puzur-Aššur I approximately 2025 BC, and that dynasty lasted until Erišum II was overthrown by the Amorite Šamši-Adad I (1815-1782 BC). But from the time that Šamši-Adad I and his sons disappeared from the political stage until the beginning of the 15th century, we have no clear picture of events in Assyria. For that reason, the Old Assyrian Period is commonly said to have extended from about 2000 to 1750 BC.

Many believe that Assyria may have belonged to the Empire of Mitanni during the dark period that followed the Old Assyrian Empire. At his high point, the Mitanni Empire extended from Nuzi25 to Alalakh on the Mediterranean, and Aššur (the capital city of Assyria during part of its history) was surrounded by that area, and was apparently ruled by local princes. It was not until the time of Aššur-Uballit (1365-1330) that Assyria was finally freed from the yoke of Mitanni. During the second half of the second millennium BC, Mesopotamia was exposed to two main influences: the first, that of the Kassites, affected the heartland of the old kingdom of Hammurabi and the adjacent lands; the other, the Hurrian, extended from the middle reaches of the Euphrates northward, and included Assyria and the region of the Zagros mountains, and even reached as far as Elam, where the Hurrian layer, recognizable by their personal names, inserted itself over the older substrate and the Kassite elements.

Outside of Mesopotamia there was still another group which left its mark on the second millennium BC, and that was the Hittites in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), who had already conquered Babylonia in 1594 BC. These people were very significant in the history of the Levant, where they would clash with Egypt from time to time, and thus affect Canaan and the surrounding areas. As for the Kassites, there are no Kassite personal names in the documents from the time prior to the First Dynasty, therefore it is assumed that the Kassites must have been people from the mountain regions (Diyala) east of Mesopotamia who gradually filtered into the area, rather than an organized group who came into Mesopotamia as a single, conquering military unit. They were probably drawn by employment opportunities in the plains of Mesopotamia. The first mention of a Kassite military organization was the ninth regnal year of King Samsuiluna of Babylon (1749-1712). It was called “the Year of the Kassite Army.” In that year the Kassite forces were successfully repelled by the Babylonians.

The Hittites, under Muršili, conquered Babylonia in 1594, but after Muršili returned to his own land, the Kassites were able to take control of Babylonia. It is conceivable that the Kassites had even assisted the Hittites when the latter attacked Babylon. The first Kassite king of Babylonia was Agum II, and even though he was a foreigner, he claimed legitimacy by maintaining that he had been called to that position by the gods (Anum, Enlil, Mardui, Ea, Sin and Shamash). He also claimed descent from one of the most important Kassite gods, Šuqamuna. And in order to further justify his position, he brought the statues of Marduk and Sarpanitu back from Ḫana, 26 which begs the question; who had conquered Babylon and taken them there in the first place? One if the remarkable phenomena concerning the Kassites is the zeal with which they embraced and promoted the Babylonian religion. Perhaps they were merely eclectic, since Šuqamuna is still mentioned in their writing, but it is even more likely that they embraced the Babylonian religion for political reasons, i.e. to ingratiate themselves with the local populace.

The political stability of Mesopotamia was indeed disturbed by a constellation of factors: the military attacks on Babylonia by the Hittites, the growing power of the Hurrians at the expense of the Assyrians, and the Egyptian interest in northern Syria. However, a major factor affecting the stability of the area was a shift in the political focus from a centripetal to a centrifugal orientation, whereby the leaders were interested in occupying distant lands, not for strategic reasons, but for economic reasons. Thus the coastal cities of Syria, as well as the commercial centers in the inner parts of the land became bones of contention between the great powers. Noteworthy in this regard is the fact that Thutmosis III of Egypt led seventeen campaigns into “Asia” and even reached the Euphrates, where he exchanged gifts with the king of Babylon (possible Karaindaš), and thereby established diplomatic relations. This was the first meeting between a Babylonian king and an Egyptian Pharaoh, and probably took place in 1457 BC. The alliance was further strengthened when a Kassite princess was sent to Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1438-1412). The Egyptians were happy to have as many foreign princesses as possible at their court, but they never reciprocated in kind; instead, they sent gold, which was much more important to the Kassite rulers, who were in constant need of funding for their expansionist projects.

During the 14th century BC the power and influence of Mitanni was waining, while that of Assyria was growing to such an extent, that the Assyrian king, Aššur-uballit, was able to intervene in Babylonian affairs and put a king on the throne (Kurigalzu II). Unfortunately for Babylon, Kurigalzu II attacked Assyria during the reign of Aššur-uballit's successor, Enlil-narari, but was defeated and had to give up some of his borderlands to Assyria. Assyrian power then reached a high point in the 13th century when Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208 BC) defeated the Babylonian king, Kaštiliaš IV. But Tukulti-Ninurta either became insane, or was declared insane, and was murdered by one of his own sons.

The last king of the Kassite Dynasty was Enlil-nadin-ahe (1157-1155 BC). The final defeat of Babylonia came about by means of a Blitzkrieg carried out by the Elamites, who then carried Enlil-nadin-ahe off to Susa in chains. They also took with them many treasures from Babylon, including the statue of Marduk. A second high point in Assyrian history had been reached under Tiglat-Pileser I (1115-1077) who had defeated Babylonia. But just a few decades later, both Assyria and Babylonia fell under the pressure of the Arameans, and Assyrians fled to the mountains.

Legal matters and family relationships in the Old Babylonian Period

The most famous law code of this period was the Code of Hammurabi, who seems to have based his laws on earlier Sumerian laws. It is famous for the lex talionis, which also appears in the Old Testament (“eye for eye” etc.). However, in Hammurabi's code, it was restricted to people of similar social status, and was designed to limit the practice of blood revenge, which had played such a great roll especially in the Amorite portions of the Babylonian population, because the Amorites had such a rigid code of honor, but the central authorities could not afford the rather significant loses of life and resources which were a result of that practice. But through promulgation of his law code, Hammurabi also achieved a secondary goal of reducing the power and influence of that large families, whose solidarity had been reinforced by the practice of blood revenge. Without the blood feuds, those families were no longer able to function as autonomous units, and in addition to that, their land holdings were reduced through the commercialization of land ownership, which further reduced the cohesiveness of the large families and finally reduced them to the basic family units of parents plus children. However, as soon as the central authority of the state disappeared with the fall of the First Babylonian Dynasty, the tendency toward the establishment of clans resumed and continued through the first century of Kassite rule.

After Marduk (i.e. his statue) had been taken away, first to Assyria and then later to Elam, a skepticism with regard to the reliability of the traditional great deities began to set in. One could no longer count on them. Previously one had held fast to the belief that all misfortunes were some sort of divine punishment for sins, but now a different explanation had to be sought. Perhaps that is why the personal protective deities now grew in importance. Presumably people thought that such personal gods could be more easily influenced.

25. Nuzi was a city southwest of Kirkuk in modern Iraq.
26. Ḫana (or Khana) was a kingdom on the middle Euphrates near the junction of the Khabur River, located in territory formerly ruled by the kings of Mari. Mari had been destroyed by Hammurabi in 1759 BC. There may have been some connection between Khana and the Kassites previously, and it is conceivable that both parties were involved in assisting the Hittites in their conquest of Babylon. Perhaps that is how the statues ended up there after the Hittite conquest.


There is no clear consensus on where the Hittites came from, but by the middle of the 17th century BC they had established a kingdom in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). That was made possible by the efforts of the first king (Labarna/Hattusili), who opened a road from the Taurus to Aleppo and even to the coastal cities of Cilicia. Labarna's successor was his grandson, Labarna II, who conquered Aleppo and carried captives back to Hattusa. He then turned his attention to Babylon, and with the help of the Kassites there, was able to seize Babylon (in 1594), as noted above.

By the middle of the 15th century, the Hittites had a very significant empire that was strong enough even to challenge the might of Egypt under Ramses II. This took place in 1274 in what is known as the Battle of Kadesh, where the Hittite army, under their king, Mutawalli II, faced the Egyptian forces of Ramses II. This was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought. Misinformed about the intentions of his adversary and the location of the Hittite troops, Ramses allowed his four divisions to march on Kadesh widely separated from each other. Ramses' troops then captured a few Hittite soldiers on reconnaissance and they revealed that Mutawalli was not far to the north, as the Egyptians had believed, but rather concealed behind Kadesh. However, before the Egyptians could assume their battle formation, the Hittite forces fell upon their flank with their chariots. The Hittites defeated the Egyptians (even though in the writings left behind both sides claimed victory), pushed on to Damascus and laid the land waste on the way.

Years later Ramses was still impressed with the strength of the Hittites, for he signed a treaty with Hattusili III and sealed the contract by taking Naptera, a Hittite princess as one of his wives, and even elevated her to chief wife.

Nothing certain is known about the fall of the Hittite empire, but around 1200 BC there were massive migrations of people, and under the pressure of these “Sea People” the Hittite empire dissolved. The background of the Sea People is not certain, but we can at least say that the Philistines (part of that larger group) are said in the Bible to have come from Crete.

The Mitanni kingdom consisted of a ruling class of Indo-Aryans who governed a populace of Hurrians. In terms of geographical size and political influence, Mitanni was at its peak from approximately 1500 BC to around 1300 BC. Hurrian names had been present even in Ur III, and there is evidence for some consolidation of Hurrian power in upper Mesopotamia already in the middle of the 17th century BC. Cooperation with Indo-Aryans led to the founding of the Mitanni state in the second half of the 16th century. However, our picture of Mitanni is still quite vague. For example, all efforts to find the capital, Washukanni, have failed so far. The discovery of that city would doubtless provide many documents that would fill in our knowledge of Mitanni. Washukanni was attacked by the forces of Thutmosis III and that brought about the end of the Mitanni state.


During the second half of the second millennium more and more Hurrian and Indo-Aryan elements streamed into Palestine.27 Their military superiority was due to the use of horses and the two-wheeled chariot. During this period, the Canaanite language and religion remained dominant, but the material culture and social organization were strongly influenced by the new immigrant populations.

Egypt, which had been introduced to the horse and chariot during the Hyksos invasion of the 17th century, became a central factor in Syria-Palestine with the establishment of the New Kingdom. Egyptian dominance of the area from the Egyptian border to middle Syria, including the Sinai peninsula and Canaan itself, lasted with only short interruptions until the middle of the 12th century. On the other hand, Mitanni, which, as mentioned above, had reached a position of considerably influence in upper Mesopotamia by the mid 15th century, continued to extend its influence further and further in a southeasterly direction, until it was replaced in the mid 14th century by the Hittite Empire as a power player in Syria, which was then dominated by the Hittites until about 1200 BC.

The geopolitically sensitive area between the Euphrates and the Sinai peninsula became a bone of contention between Egypt and Mitanni initially, and later between Egypt and the Hittite Empire. That was because each of these states could only be the dominant influence in the region if it controlled that sensitive area. It was not until the fall of the Hittites and the weakening of Egyptian power in the last centuries of the second millennium BC that the conditions were favorable for independence among the people of Syria and Palestine, and for the consolidation of new groups, such as the tribes of Israel in the south and the Arameans in the north. In addition, these circumstances also empowered the Sea People, who has settled in the coastal areas, and also made it possible for the Assyrians to push through to the Mediterranean around 1100 BC.

Unfortunately, we do not know as much about Palestine as we would like. That is due, at least in part, to the fact that in the south, following ancient Egyptian practices, papyrus was used for writing, and papyrus is not durable. In the north, on the other hand, cuneiform writing on clay was common, in accord with Mesopotamian practices. For that reason, we have a significant number of literary works, especially from Ugarit, and these provide insights into the religious life of that community.

At the head of the pantheon was the god Il and his spouse, Athirat. In the Bible, these two appear under the names of El and Ashera. Their son is Baal, who is identical with the Syrian Hadad, the storm god. Mot, the god of death, is also a son of El and Ashera.

In Egypt, the Pharaohs of the 18th dynasty, now free of the Hyksos hegemony, undertook extended expeditions into the Middle East in order to restore the influence that they had had in this region during the Middle Kingdom. When they were driven out of Egypt, the Hyksos had fled to the city of Sharuhen, 28 so Ahmose I, the founder of the 18th dynasty, after conquering Tanis, the capital of the Hyksos, led an expedition to Sharuhen and besieged it, eventually destroying the city. Ahmose's grandson, Thutmosis I, undertook an expedition toward the end of the 16th century BC and not only entered the land Retenu (i.e. Canaan), but also reached Mitanni on the Euphrates. The great Pharaoh Thutmosis III knew that in order to make Egypt a premier political entity, he had to annex Syria-Palestine, and he realized that goal by means of a carefully planned conquest of the Asian territory up to the Euphrates, and also by establishing an Egyptian administration in the conquered territories. However, the city-states in Syria-Palestine did everything possible to maintain their independence and therefore joined together in a confederation under the leadership of Kadesh on the Orontes River. Furthermore, Mitanni offered to provide backup for them. Thutmosis III made a total of 17 expeditions into the Asian territory, beginning in 1469 BC., gradually extending his power northward, while putting down local rebellions along the way. He not only penetrated deep into Syria and conquered Kadesh, but also gained the entire Phoenician coast with the important cities of Biblos, Ullaza and Sumur, which became important strongholds for the Egyptian rulers. These Phoenician port cities, where Canaanite agricultural produce was stored, were crucial for supplying Egyptian troops, and therefore for maintaining the Egyptian hegemony over the region.

The central point for administering the Asian territories was Gaza, which was also the official residence of the Chief Commissioner. In general Thutmosis III allowed the local dynasties to keep their dignity and positions, but took their siblings and children to Egypt in order to keep them more or less as hostages, in case the local leaders back home should decide to rebel again. But the second purpose was to educate them in the ways of the Egyptian court, and to allow them to develop a taste for the life of Egyptian dignitaries in preparation for the time when they might return home to succeed their relatives as local rulers. In this manner, Syria and Palestine went through a process of intensive Egyptianization.

The last Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty to undertake military campaigns in the Levant and adjacent areas was Thutmosis IV.29 His successors were content to reign over their Asiatic subjects from afar. As a result, Egyptian power in that area eventually crumbled. He was succeeded by his son, Amenhotep III, who was in turn succeeded by Amenhotep IV, who soon changed his name to Akhenaten and devoted himself to reforming Egyptian religion by promoting the worship of the sun-god Aten, while neglecting the affairs in the lands to the north and east of Egypt.

It was during the reigns of these last two Pharaohs that correspondence was gathered and stored in El Amarna in middle Egypt, and that state archive is the source of much of what we know about Egypt and her neighbors during the 14th century. Many of these “Amarna letters” were written by Canaanite scribes, and therefore provide information about Canaan which is pertinent to Old Testament studies. They shed light, not only on the history of the region, but also on the Canaanite language of the time. 30

The Pharaohs of the 19th dynasty renewed the Egyptian interest in Syria-Palestine, and as a result, Canaanite influence in Egypt reached a high point, while the Egyptian rule in the Asian lands was largely restored. Furthermore, the relations between Egypt and the Hittites, which had been quite frosty for some time following the Battle of Kadesh, ended in 1269 with a peace treaty between Ramses II and the Hittite king, Hattusili III, who had commanded the Hittite forces during that battle. As part of the arrangement, Ramses married a daughter of Hattusili III, and later he took a second daughter of Hattusili. By this means, Damascus and its territory remained under Egyptian rule.

It was under Merneptah, the son of Ramses II, that the so-called “Israel stele” was produced, which contains the earliest non-biblical reference to Israel.

The 19th dynasty ended in complete anarchy around 1200 BC. It appears that a usurper by the name of Haru took power, and that he was Semitic in origin. Therefore it is conceivable that the appearance of an Asian (Semitic) ruler in Egypt might correspond chronologically to the biblical account of Chusan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram-naharaim and the first oppressor of the Israelites during the period of the Judges (cf. Judges 3:8).

During the reign of Ramses III (1182-1151 BC) the Egyptians succeeded for the last time in their history to rule over Palestine. Like his predecessors, he erected two religious sites in Beth Shean, where a statue of a Pharaoh has been found. The two religious sites may have been the temples of Dagon and Ashtaroth (see I Sam. 31:10 and I Chron. 10:10). This is also an example of the fact that Ramses III did not only build temples to Egyptian deities in Canaan, but also temples to the Canaanite gods, apparently in an attempt to make the fact of Egyptian hegemony more acceptable to the indigenous population. But these holy sites also served economic purposes, because they served as gathering points and storage for the taxes of the Canaanite subjects.

After the death of Ramses III the Egyptian influence in Syria-Palestine quickly eroded, helped significantly in that process by the rise of Assyria under Tiglath-pileser I (1114-1076 BC), who led a campaign against Lebanon and the Phoenician port cities: three of which – Arwad, Byblos and Sidon – were forced to pay tribute from then on. But this was only an isolated incident at the time, because Assyria had to wait another 200 years before they were able to establish themselves firmly along the Mediterranean coast. The biggest obstacle that hindered Tiglath-pileser I and his successors in the West was the resistance of the Arameans, who had flooded the area of Syria and the Euphrates as far as Babylonia from the end of the 12th century BC.

As for the Israelites, there is some evidence for dating the Exodus from Egypt to the 13th century BC, though this is not universally accepted. 31 But there is, for example, a document from the time of Ramses II (1290-1224 BC) which reports the use of hapiru/apiru (a word for Semitic immigrants) in construction work, which reminds us of the use of Israelites for the construction of the storage cities of Pithom and Ramses (Ex. 1:11). Those two cities, located in the eastern Delta in the biblical land of Goshen, were indeed rebuilt by Ramses II. If this was the work mentioned in the OT, then the Israelites might have left Egypt either during the time of Ramses II, or else during the reign of his successor, Merneptah.

However, there is also evidence to date the Exodus to the 15th century BC. For example, there is a reference in Judges 11:26 which covers the time from the Conquest to Jephthah's lifetime, and says that period was 300 years. Livingston reports that many scholars date Jephthah to about 1100 BC, 32 which would place the Conquest of Canaan around 1400 BC. Furthermore, I Kings 6:1 says that Solomon began to build the temple in the 4th year of his reign, and that this was 480 years after the Exodus. If we use Finkelstein and Silberman's dates for Solomon as 970-931 BC, 33 then we arrive at a date for the Exodus of about 1446 BC, and if we accept the information in Ex. 12:40 that Israel was in Egypt 430 years, that would mean that Joseph entered Egypt sometime around 1876 BC.

This fits in neatly with the assumption mentioned above that Abraham lived in Ur during the Ur III period. Now, if Abraham left Ur during the time of the famine that occurred in the reign of Ibbisin, then we may place his departure close to the year 2017 BC. We do not know how old Abraham was when he left Ur, but the Book of Abraham says he was 62 when he left Haran (Abr. 2:14). If, as noted previously, we posit that he might have stayed in Haran about 2 years, then he would have been born around 2077 BC. He was then 100 years old when Isaac was born (Gen. 21:5), meaning that Isaac would have been born around 1977 BC. Isaac was then 60 years old when Jacob was born (Gen. 25:26), so that would have been around 1917 BC. That then leaves us 41 years, between the birth of Jacob and the time when Joseph entered Egypt. If Jacob married at a fairly young age, then that leaves us enough time for Joseph to be born and enter Egypt in his early teens. Therefore, this chronology would seem to fit nicely, and even though we may have to allow for some error of a few years in the estimations offered, we still have a proposal that seems to provide an integration of the scriptural records and the historical data from scholarly research on the Ancient Near East.

27. It is admittedly anachronistic to use the term “Palestine” for the geographic area which would not become “Syria Palestine” until the Roman era. However, the focus here is on the area that would become the united kingdom of Israel (and the later northern and southern kingdoms), and if we were to use the term “Canaan,” that would necessarily include the Phoenician states which are outside our area of focus at the moment.
28.This city is mentioned in Joshua 19:6, but we do not know where it was located – perhaps near present-day Gaza.
29. His reign is given either as 1401-1391 BC, or as 1397-1388 BC.
30. Cf. Dassow 2004 and Horowitz and Oshima 2006.
31. See Livingston 1974:41-50 for a detailed discussion on the various factors to be considered when fixing a date for the Exodus.
32. Finkelstein and Silberman 2006:20.


The preceding summary of Ancient Near Eastern history has brought us close to the beginning of the First Millennium BC. At this point in time the Israelites have settled in Canaan, and the events surrounding this process may be read in the biblical books of Joshua and Judges, including the events that led to the establishment of a monarchy in Israel, with Saul as Israel's first king.

As with other periods in the history of the Ancient Near East, the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah have not been completely clear-cut. For example, Barnes (1991:30) notes that Albright had proposed a date of 922 for the point when the united kingdom of Israel split into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah), but he states that the date of 931, proposed by E. R. Thiele 33 was more commonly accepted. He also mentions Frank Moore Cross arrived at a date of 932 for the disruption of the monarchy by suggesting a different reconstruction of the Tyrian chronology that was based upon the material of Menander as transmitted by Josephus, and he thereby also arrived at a date of 968 for the founding of Solomon's temple and dates of 971-932 for the reign of Solomon. 34

Finkelstein and Silberman (2006) used the mention of the release of Jehoiachin in the first year of Amel-Marduk (biblical Evil-Merodach) as recorded in II Kings 25:27 to arrive at a date of 561 BC for that event, and then counted backward in order to obtain dates for the kings of Judah. They also use a generally accepted synchronism of the invasion of Judah in the fifth year of Rehoboam as 926 BC. 35

This gives them the approximate dates of 1010-970 BC for David and 970-931 BC for Solomon.36 . In any case, the single kingdom of Israel split into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah) after the death of Solomon, and using the results obtained by Finkelstein and Silberman, we can date the reigns of the kings of Judah as follows: 37

King Years Reigned Estimated Dates (B.C.)
Rehoboam 17 931-914
Abijam 3 914-911
Asa 41 911-870
Eve Jackson 94
Jehoshaphat 25 870-846
Jehoram 8 851-843
Abaziah 1 843-842
Athaliah 7 842-836
Jehoash 40 836-798
Amaziah 29 798-769
Uzziah 52 785-733
Jotham 16 759-743
Ahaz 16 743-727
Hezekiah 29 727-698
Manasseh 55 698-642
Amon 2 641-640
Josiah 31 639-609
Jehoahaz 3 months 609 BC
Jehoiakim 11 608-598
Jehoiachin (aka Coniah, or Jeconiah) 3 months 597
Zedekiah 11 596-586

Under David and Solomon, Israel emerged as the first Iron Age territorial entity in the highlands of Canaan and thereby threatened the interests of a revived Egypt. It was then weakened by the campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I (biblical Shishak, cf. I Kings 14:25, II Chron. 12:1-12) in the fifth year of the reign of Rehoboam. Jeroboam had taken refuge in Egypt, and the Pharaoh swept through Israel and attacked Jerusalem in support of his friend.

We may now move quickly to Isaiah's time. By the mid 8th century Jerusalem was still restricted to the narrow ridge of the City of David. 38 However, Ahaz pledged loyalty to Tilgath-pileser III (as confirmed by archeological evidence) in an attempt to thereby avoid an Assyrian attack on Judah. The Assyrians then turned their attention to the coalition of Northern Israel and the Syrians, and attacked Israel under the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V, who laid siege to Samaria in 722 BC. But Shalmaneser died that same year, so the final conquest of Samaria appears to have been realized by his successor, Sargon II, who ruled Assyria from 722 to 705 BC.

According to Finkelstein and Silberman, Judah profited from the destruction of Israel: “By the end of the eighth century BCE, it had all the hallmarks of a proper kingdom: massive building activity, mass production of commodities, centralized administration, literacy, and, most important, a new understanding of its own historical identity.” 39 Moreover, there seems to have been a population explosion in Jerusalem toward the end of the 8th century, and it may well have been due to refugees from the northern kingdom flooding south into Judah to escape the Assyrians. 40


After Sargon II died in battle in 705 BC, he was replaced by his son, Sennacherib. Almost immediately a rebellion broke out in Babylonia as Marduk-apla-iddina II (the biblical Merodach-Baladan 41 ), who had been driven out of Babylon in 710 BC by Sargon II, took advantage of the momentary weakness that can occur at the death of king and himself re-took the throne in Babylon, and then assembled an army of Chaldeans, Arameans and Elamites. Sennacherib was therefore forced to undertake campaigns against him beginning in 703 BC.

The biblical context for these events and their importance for understanding the 8th century Old Testament prophets is that Isaiah was called as a prophet in the year of Uzziah's death, which was about 740 BC. The Syro-Ephraimitic war broke out around 735 BC. That was when Isaiah went to Ahaz with a message, but was rejected. He then withdrew from the public for the remainder of Ahaz' life and focused on his family and friends. 42 He then became active again during the reign of Hezekiah. According to later legends, Isaiah was eventually martyred under Hezekiah's son, Manasseh. 43

Other Old Testament prophets of this period were Hosea (the only recorded prophet of the Northern Kingdom), Amos and Micah. The precise dates of Hosea are not known, but he prophesied just prior to the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Micah was a prophet in Judah, who lived during the reign of King Jotham (759-743) and his successors. Approximate dates for his prophetic activity are 737-696 BC. He was therefore a contemporary of Isaiah, and the two of them even shared a prophecy. That is to say that Isa. 2:2-4 is the same as Micah 4:1-3. Whether Micah was quoting Isaiah, or Isaiah was quoting Micah, or whether both were quoting yet another (unnamed) prophet, I cannot say. Finally, Amos was an older contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea. He was active around 750 BC, and though he was from Judah, he preached in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Apart from Moses, Joel may have been the earliest OT prophet to write down his revelations. Major themes of these prophets include: apostasy from Yahweh, social injustices and corrupt officials, reliance on outside help (apart from Yahweh) such as Egypt, immorality, the scattering and gathering of Israel, and the coming judgments.

Concerning the living conditions during this period, Whitehouse reports: ““The occupations of the inhabitants of Palestine during the earlier regal period were mainly nomadic and agricultural, and the land at that time and till the days of Isaiah was largely held by small peasant proprietors. But it can scarcely be said that the growth of trade and civilization and the increase of material well-being tended to improve the condition of the small peasant farmer. Palestine is favourably placed for the growth of wealth. It is the highway of commerce between Egypt and Arabia on the south, and Syria, Assyria, as well as the great emporia of commerce, Tyre and Sidon, on the north. The corn, wine and oil of Canaan were exchanged for the manufactured products which came through the Phoenician seaports. Among the Israelite population the simplicity of nomadic and agricultural life began to give way. Towns grew up, wealth increased, and a more complex civilization began to develop, and with it a wealthy class of rich landowners. We learn from Amos iii. 15 that it was a common custom for a wealthy man to own both a summer and a winter residence. These were luxuriously equipped with divans inlaid with ivory (vi. 4). A significant passage in Isa. ix.9, 10 informs us that in building their houses the wealthier Ephraimites abandoned the old-fashioned sycamore wood (I Kings x. 27) for the more expensive cedar, while hewn stone was taking the place of brick. If we are to regard Isa. iii. 18-23 as actually genuine, the growth of luxury in female attire during this period is one more indication of the great increase of wealth in the eighth century, to which the prophet bears express testimony in the striking phrase 'The land is full of silver and gold' (ii. 7). But evil results in social life flowed from this accumulation of wealth in the hands of a privileged class. One of these was the aggregation of smaller landed estates into the hands of a few and the dispossession of the poverty-stricken cultivator of the soil. These wealthy landowners 'add house to house and join field to field' until there is no more room for the small peasant proprietor. These latifundia injured the social life of Palestine in the eighth century as much as those of Italy in the days of the Gracchi.”

Whitehouse also states that the main mechanism for financial oppression was the harsh law of usury, which allowed the creditors to charge 20% interest, and also permitted the creditor to sell a debtor who defaulted into slavery, and according to Amos, the debt might be a mere trifle amounting to nothing more than a pair of sandals (Amos 2:6 and 8:6). 44

A major theme for the prophets of Judah at this time was the dreadful threat posed by the coalition of Israel and Syria, because those two powers were intent on destroying Judah. This is referred to as the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis. This was an existential threat for the state of Judah. Moreover, Isaiah himself hinted at the destruction of his own country when he named his son She'ar-yashub, which means “a remnant will return,” thus indicating that only a few would survive the destruction, turn to Yahweh, and receive divine mercy. 45

Isaiah warned Ahaz to rely on Yahweh and not on help from Assyria, and even offered the king a sign from Yahweh. But the king refused and proceeded to ask the Assyrian king for protection from the Syro-Ephraimitic coalition. Isaiah then detailed the coming disaster in 7:17-20 and called the Assyrian king a “hired razor” because Ahaz had appealed to him, and Isaiah knew this would be a great mistake for Judah, not just for Israel. In chapter 8 he then reiterated the coming disaster, but predicted that a new generation would arise with a righteous ruler.

The Assyrians had been fighting some of the north Syrian states as early as 743-39 – states apparently in league with Urartu, Assyria's chief rival at the time.46 And during the reign of Ahaz, Tiglath-pileser III did indeed march westward into southwestern Palestine against the Philistines. This was in 734/33 BC. Then, from 733 to 731 he was busy subjugating the lands around Damascus. Damascus itself fell around 732-31 (cf. II Kings 16:9). Around this same time (733 or 732) there was an Assyrian invasion of the Galilee, as well as the subjection of Ashkelon, which parallels II Kings 15:29.

At the same time that Tiglath-pileser was moving against Philistia, the Ethiopian king, Piye, established control over lower Egypt by invading the delta, so it is possible that this expansion by the Ethiopians was what triggered the Assyrian move westward, since competition over the east Mediterranean sea trade was a major source of friction between Assyria and Egypt at that time.

An Assyrian tablet (ND4301+4305) reports part of the Assyrian campaign dealing with Tyre and establishes three things: 1) that Hiram, king of Tyre, was in league with Rezin of Syria; 2) that the Assyrian campaign against Tyre involved significant military action, and 3) that at some point, Hiram capitulated and submitted to Tiglath-pileser and paid tribute, but was left on the throne. This was in 733/732. 47 That same tablet indicates that Tiglath-pileser appointed Hoshea king of Israel in the place of Pekah. Lines 13-16 then summarize the Assyrian campaign against Gaza in 734/733.

The forces which resisted Assyria in the 730's included Rezin of Syria, Hiram of Tyre, Damascus, Pekah of Israel, King Mitinti of Ashkelon, Samsi queen of the Arabs, and possibly Hanno of Gaza. Rezin played a leading role in this rebellion. The Egyptian and/or Ethiopian kingdoms may have also encouraged this rebellion in a move to protect their trade interests from the Assyrian encroachment. Rulers who submitted peacefully to Tiglath-pileser in 734/733 include several north Syrian rulers, Ahaz of Judah, Mitinti of Ashkelon, Kaushmalaka of Edom, Salamanu of Moab, Sanipu of Ammon, and Samsi, queen of the Arabs. Rezin, Hiram and Pekah continued the rebellion for two more years. They were re-joined by Mitinti and Samsi.

Irvine (1990:95ff.) points out that concerning the reconstruction of the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis there are three basic positions: those of Begrich,48 Donner 49and Oded. 50 Joachim Begrich argues that:

    1. Rezin and Pekah would not have invaded Judah while the Assyrian army was in the area, so it must have happened before the Assyrian campaign – likely in the spring of 734.
    2. The purpose of that attack was to draw Judah into a broad anti-Assyrian coalition.
    3. Ahaz did not join that coalition because he must have thought that their chances of success were minimal. But he also realized that he could not remain neutral, so he appealed to Tiglath-pileser for help in the spring of 734.
    4. Tiglath-pileser invaded Palestine in order to crush the anti-Assyrian coalition, not to save Ahaz.
    5. The Assyrian army moved down the eastern Mediterranean coast toward Gaza in late spring or early summer of 734. The one detour was at Acco (Acre) where they turned inland to invade the Galilee.
    6. In 733-732 the Assyrian army moved from the Philistine coast toward Damascus. During that campaign they conquered Gilead, Bashan, the Golan, defeated Rezin's army near Hadara, subjugated Samsi and captured Damascus.

Donner has two main objections to the reconstruction of Begrich: The first was the Tiglath-pileser's inscriptions do not indicate that the campaign had anything to do with an anti-Assyrian coalition. Secondly, the period between the enthronement of Pekah (fall of 735 at the earliest) and the Philistine campaign (June/July 734 according to Begrich) is too short to accommodate all the events leading up to and during the Syro-Ephraimitic war. Donner therefore “concludes that the coalition did not yet exist at the time of the Philistine campaign. It arose afterward as a response to the new Assyrian presence in Palestine.”

Donner thinks the Assyrians marched against Gaza in April/May 734 at the latest. Negotiations between Rezin, Pekah and Ahaz began shortly thereafter. When Ahaz refused to join the coalition, Pekah and Rezin decided to attack Judah. So Syrian troops moved into Israel, but the attack on Judah was delayed, because if that had happened in 734 then the Assyrians would not have waited until a year later to respond. So in the spring of 733 Rezin and Pekah invaded, but when their armies reached Jerusalem, Ahaz appealed to Tiglathpileser, who responded immediately.

Oded objects that if Rezin and Pekah were really trying to form an anti-Assyrian coalition, they would not have risked weakening their armies and leaving their northern flank exposed through an extended siege of Jerusalem. He also points that most conflicts between Syrian states and Palestinian states were local conflicts, and there is no other example of their coalescing to fight an outside enemy. He also points out that according to II Kings 15:37 Rezin and Pekah had been harassing Judah as early as the reign of Jotham. He argues that the struggle between Rezin, Pekah and Ahaz was essentially for control of Transjordan.

Irvine (1990:102f) largely discredits Oded's assertions as not well supported. In any case, the Davidic kings became more or less vassals of Israel during the Omride era and continued as such throughout the Jehu dynasty. 51 Rezin and Pekah attacked Judah sometime late in 734 or early 733, but the siege was broken when Tiglath-pileser attacked the coalition in 733.

As mentioned above, the deportation of the Israelites from the Northern Kingdom finally took place in 722 BC, leaving Judah as the only remaining portion of the once great state of David and Solomon. Babylon continued under Assyrian domination until after the death of Ashurbanipal in 627, when Assyria began to go through a series of civil wars. Babylonia successfully rebelled under Nabopolassar, who seized control of much of Babylonia in 620 BC. He was eventually succeeded by his son, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC) who then raised Babylonia to great heights politically and culturally, taking over much of what had been the Assyrian empire. But he also conquered Judah and led off many of the notables of Jerusalem into what is called “the Babylonian Captivity” in 586 BC.

33.Thiele 1944:147
34. Cross 1972:17, n. 11.
35. These dates differ slightly from those published by Hayes and Hooker (1988:16) of 927-906 for Jeroboam I of Israel and 926-910 for Rehoboam of Judah.
36. Finkelstein and Silberman 2006:20
37. Ibid, p. 18.
38. Finkelstein and Silber 2006: 126.
39. Ibid, p. 128
40. Finkelstein and Silberman (on page 135) attribute this idea to the Israeli archeologist, Magen Broshi. However, another archeologist, Seymour Gitin, pointed out to me during excavations at Tel Miqne in 1994 that the small four-horned altars found there were evidence that people from the northern kingdom had migrated south – apparently due to Assyrian pressure during the late 8th century BC, and that some of them had become involved in the olive oil industry in places such as Ekron (Tel Miqne).
41. He is mentioned in Isaiah 39:1 as having sent letters to Hezekiah, who had fallen ill. He is also mentioned in II Kings 20:12 in conjunction with this same episode, but there he is called Berodach-baladan.
42. Budde 1906:76-77.
43. According to Talmud Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin X) Isaiah had hidden himself in a cedar to get away from Manasseh, but the fringes of his garment were still visible, so Manasseh ordered that the tree be sawed in half, thus killing Isaiah. The version in Talmud Bavli (Yebamoth 49b) is slightly different.
44. Whitehouse, 1908:41-43.
45. Cf. Irvine 1990: 4.
46. Irvine 1990:25.
47. See Irvine 1990:58f.
48. Begrich 1927.
49. Donner 1964
50. Oded 1972.
51. Ibid. p. 106.